Genital Warts

Overview of Genital Warts

Genital warts, or condylomata acuminata, are sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for genital warts. They are small, flesh-colored, or gray growths that appear in the genital and anal areas, as well as in the mouth and throat.

Genital warts are usually painless. However, they can be itchy and uncomfortable. They may occur as single warts or clusters and can vary in size and shape. They are highly contagious and can spread through skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. Genital warts are not always visible and may go unnoticed for a long time.

Prevalence of Genital Warts

More than 90% of men and 80% of women will face HPV at some point in life. Overall, genital herpes has an estimated prevalence of 10-20% with 1% clinical manifestations


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Signs and Symptoms of Genital Warts

The symptoms of genital warts can vary from person to person, and sometimes there may be no symptoms. However, common symptoms of genital warts may include the following:

  • Small, fleshy growths or bumps on or around the genitals or anus
  • Clusters of warts that resemble cauliflower
  • Itching or discomfort in the genital area
  • Bleeding during sexual intercourse
  • Increased vaginal discharge or unusual discharge from the penis
  • Painful urination if the warts are near the urethra

Not all cases of genital warts are visible or easily detectable, which is why regular screening for HPV is recommended, especially for sexually active individuals. 


Types of Genital Warts

Genital warts are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are several types of genital warts, including:

  • Common warts: The most common type of genital warts, typically small, raised, and flesh-colored bumps.
  • Flat warts: Smaller and flat than general warts, sometimes appear in clusters.
  • Filiform warts: Long and thin and can appear on the genitals or around the anus.
  • Periungual warts: These warts appear around the nails and can be painful.
  • Plantar warts: These warts appear on the soles of the feet and can be painful to walk on.

It's important to note that not all genital warts look the same, and some may not be visible to the naked eye.

Causes of Genital Warts

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV is a group of over 100 viruses, and some types can cause genital warts.

Genital warts usually spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The virus can be transmitted even if the infected person has no visible symptoms.


Risk Factors of Genital Warts

The following are the common risk factors associated with the development of genital warts:

  • Sexual activity: Genital warts get transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Having unprotected intercourse with multiple partners or a partner having HPV increases the risk of getting infected with the virus.
  • Age: Younger individuals are more likely to develop genital warts because their immune systems are less developed, making them more susceptible to HPV infection.
  • Weakened immune system: Individuals with weakened immune systems due to conditions such as HIV/AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy are at a higher risk of developing genital warts.
  • Smoking: Smoking weakens the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to HPV infection and increasing the risk of developing genital warts.
  • Personal hygiene: Poor personal hygiene, not washing the genital area regularly, can increase the risk of developing genital warts.
  • Use of contraceptives: Certain contraceptives, such as diaphragms and spermicidal agents, can irritate the genital area, making it more susceptible to HPV infection and genital warts.

It's important to note that not all individuals who have the above risk factors will develop genital warts, and some people may develop genital warts without any known risk factors.


Some of the potential complications of genital warts include:

  • Cancer: Certain types of HPV that cause genital warts can increase the risk of developing cancer. Women with genital warts are at increased risk of developing cervical cancer, while men and women with genital warts can also develop anal cancer.
  • Psychological distress: Genital warts can cause psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, and reduced sexual self-esteem.
  • Discomfort and pain: Genital warts can cause discomfort and pain, especially during sexual activity.
  • Transmission to others: Genital warts are highly contagious and can transmit to others through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
  • Recurrence: Even after treatment, genital warts can sometimes recur, which can be frustrating and require additional treatment.
  • Pregnancy complications: Pregnant women with genital warts can pass the virus to their newborns during delivery, which can cause respiratory papillomatosis, a condition that causes warts to grow in the respiratory tract.



The most effective way is to avoid sexual contact with an infected partner. However, this may not always be possible or practical. Here are some other ways to reduce the risk of contracting genital warts:

  • Vaccination: The HPV vaccine can protect against several types of HPV, including those that cause genital warts. The vaccine is for both males and females aged 9 to 26.
  • Protection use: Using a latex condom every time you have intercourse can help reduce the risk of contracting genital warts. However, condoms are not 100% effective at preventing HPV transmission, as the virus can be present in areas not covered by the condom.
  • Limiting sexual partners: Reducing the number of sexual partners can help lower the risk of contracting genital warts and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Routine screening: Regular screenings for sexually transmitted infections can help detect and treat genital warts and other infections early.
  • Abstinence: Abstinence from sexual activity is the only surefire way to prevent genital warts and other sexually transmitted infections.

If you suspect you may have been exposed to HPV or have genital warts, seek medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.



Here's what you can expect during the diagnosis process:

  • Physical exam: Your healthcare provider will examine the affected area, including the genitals and anus, to look for genital warts. They may use a magnifying glass to get a closer look.
  • Pap test: For women, a Pap test may check for abnormal cervical cells, which can indicate the presence of HPV.
  • Biopsy: In some cases, your healthcare provider may take a small sample of tissue from the wart to send to a lab for testing. It is called a biopsy and can help confirm the diagnosis.
  • HPV testing: Your healthcare provider may also test for the presence of HPV in your body by taking a sample of cervical cells or using a DNA test.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Routine screenings for sexually transmitted infections can help detect and treat genital warts and other infections early.

Treatment of Genital Warts | When to Consult a Doctor

There are several treatment options available for genital warts, including:

  • Topical medications: Your healthcare provider may prescribe a topical medication, such as imiquimod, podofilox, or sinecatechins, that you apply directly to the affected area. These medications stimulate your immune system to fight the virus or destroy warts.
  • Freezing: Your healthcare provider may use liquid nitrogen to freeze warts, which causes them to fall off. It is called cryotherapy.
  • Laser therapy: A high-intensity laser may burn off warts.
  • Surgical removal: Sometimes, your healthcare provider may remove warts surgically. It is typically done under local anesthesia and may involve cutting or scraping off warts.
  • Watchful waiting: Some genital warts may go away without treatment. However, this can take months or even years, and warts may still be contagious during this time.

It is essential to follow your gynecologist's instructions for treating genital warts, as some treatments can cause scarring or other complications. You should continue to practice safe intercourse to prevent the spread of the virus to others, even after treatment.